Man in demand
Jack Wilshere performance against Brazil on Wednesday has sparked a debate about how best to use the player following his return from long-term injury. Everyone may want a piece of the Arsenal midfielder. But Adam Bate reckons Stuart Pearce is one man who needs to forget about it.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 08/02/13 3:45pm
Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of Jack Wilshere. The 21-year-old's eye-catching efforts at Wembley on Wednesday simply demanded acclaim. Finally an England midfielder with the pace, technique and dribbling ability to glide past players from a central position. But with the papers labelling the Arsenal youngster 'more Brazilian than the Brazilians' the scrap for his undivided attention has begun.
"I had in fact expected Jack to play only a part of the game on Wednesday. But it didn't happen and, because of his quality, he will be exposed to that," said Gunners boss Arsene Wenger. "The overuse of his quality, you can understand that. He will have to be managed like everyone else. It is not just the physical aspect but the mental pressure every time he plays. We will have to manage him well physically to make sure he doesn't face that burnout."
England coach Roy Hodgson could be forgiven for being perplexed - it's the first time he's named Wilshere in his starting line-up and already the player's club manager is annoyed. But there's a third party involved in the debate. England Under 21 boss Stuart Pearce also has plans for the midfielder. "I see a lot about players being rested, but where should the priority be on burnout? Should the clubs rest for the national team?" pointed out Pearce.
When Pearce talks of the national team he doesn't just mean the seniors. He plans to finally win the European Under 21 Championships this summer in Israel. "I've always said the same thing. Unless you take your strongest squad you can't be competitive," explained the former Manchester City manager, quoted in The Guardian. "We've had support in some ways but, doing my job, I'd probably prefer a bit more support in regard to the players. It's not just for my personal point of view, but I honestly feel that giving these players tournament experience will benefit the seniors in the long run.
"I've got my own mentality when it comes to what's going to help our senior team win a World Cup or European Championships. I just have to look at the Spanish and the French. They all do the same, they build from the bottom, build up and then, eventually, they win the World Cups and European Championships.
"It's experience of a tournament, that's how I see it. We have to get these players from the age of 16 or 17 and give them as much tournament experience as we humanly can. So when they step on that senior stage they have had two, three or four tournaments. That's what you have to do so they can eventually go into the seniors with that mentality."
It's a passionate defence and there is some logic to it. But there is a risk here that the picture Pearce paints of the archetypal foreign set-up is accepted without question. Myths can be perpetuated. The country is full of pub philosophers telling you how they do things abroad. The truth regarding the connection between age-group success and World Cup wins is less clear.
Firstly, the ambition of emulating France already looks questionable after a decade of disappointments. Spain are a more worthy template right now and much was made last year of the value the country places on youth tournaments. There was talk that Sergio Busquets was going to appear at the Olympics (he wasn't) and that Iker Muniain could feature in all three summer tournaments for which he was eligible (he didn't).
In fact, the reality regarding the link between the European Under 21 Championship and senior Spanish success is virtually non-existent. The FIFA U-17 World Cup is one thing. But so seriously do Spain take this U21 tournament that they failed to qualify for it on four consecutive occasions from 2002 to 2007. As a result, only three of Spain's Euro 2012 winning squad had represented their country in the U21 finals. Two of those - Javi Martinez and Juan Mata - did not start a single game in Portugal and Ukraine, seeing roughly 20 minutes of action between them.
The third was Xavi Hernandez, who competed in the tournament back in 2000. And the principal reason Xavi featured all those years ago was because he had not made the senior squad for Euro 2000. Actually, the Barcelona midfielder didn't even make his debut for Spain until November of that year.
Xavi's status at the time is significant because the contrast with Wilshere is so vast. This young star is already among the team's greatest assets. That may speak of the paucity of talent at Hodgson's disposal but as the pragmatic coach himself might say, 'We are where we are'. As such, his priority between now and the summer of 2014 is surely to integrate this asset into the side the best way he can.
Fortunately for Hodgson, the Football Association has had one of its brighter ideas. A June friendly in Brazil has been arranged, giving England's players the opportunity to gain experience of playing in the host nation for the following year's extravaganza. It's a chance England's coach and players would be foolish to miss.
That Wenger would not want Wilshere to be travelling to South America after a long comeback season is perhaps understandable. But Pearce has revealed he will be making the case for the player - and his Arsenal team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - to join the young lads in Israel this June instead.
It is a viewpoint that is reportedly the source of tension at FA headquarters. But it shouldn't be. The talk of building international success from the bottom through the age-groups makes some sense. And no doubt a European Under 21 Championship win would look good on a manager's CV. But if Pearce was watching on Wednesday, he'd realise what just about everyone else has worked out already: Teams don't send their best player to an Under 21 tournament.